Why does it matter what you eat when it comes to keeping your heart healthy? Simply, the heart is pumping blood to the rest of the body and when it is compromised, overall good health is challenged.
The foods you choose to eat can affect weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels and therefore impact the heart’s ability to keep doing its job. The healthiness of the heart is related to the healthiness of other organs, including the brain, and therefore how likely you are to develop serious illnesses such as dementia, diabetes, cancer and more.
It’s not just what you eat, but how much you eat. A person’s appropriate caloric intake depends on their age, gender, and typical amount of physical activity. Experts offer a variety of tips for controlling portions or calories so as to avoid obesity.
One way to regulate how much you eat is through portion control. The Mayo Clinic suggests using smaller plates or bowls or measuring food by cups or ounces in order to manage meal size. The American Heart Association advocates education on the right amount of calories for each individual.
Regardless of the method that you choose, in general it is recommended that you fill up on nutrient-dense meals and limit fast foods that can be full of sodium, sugars and bad fats.
Eat those vegetables! Fruits too. The reason is that vegetables and fruits are packed with vitamins and minerals and fiber, but lower in calories than high-fat foods. When eating vegetables and fruits, go for a variety and eat them fresh, frozen or if canned, only those packed in juice or water and not heavy syrup or with any added sugars. Aim for five or more servings per day of vegetables and fruits.
Round out your plate with whole grains such as whole wheat bread, brown rice or whole grain pasta and a low-fat protein such as poultry or fish. Not all fish are the same and you want those high in omega-3’s, like salmon and herring. Don’t forget that legumes such as beans, peas and lentils can also provide protein. Use healthy fats like olive oil and vegetable oils to prepare these dishes.
Be aware of how much sodium is in your food because it’s not just the salt you sprinkled on your food that matters, but the salt that is found in many processed foods from canned soup to soy sauce. Excess sodium can be a factor in high blood pressure which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
All of this is not to say that you can’t have some sweets in your diet. Studies have shown that eating dark chocolate (70% or higher cocoa content) a couple of times weekly might be good for the heart. Eating a heart-healthy diet should be enjoyable too.
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